PNT Photo: Lisa Sonnenschein
Gov. Bill Richardson emphasized local autonomy and accountability when he made a pitch to Portales residents Wednesday for two state constitutional amendments aimed at education reform.
Richardson spoke in the Portales High School auditorium as part of a barnstorming swing around the state that is expected to end in Silver City at 5 p.m. today.
He was trying to drum up enthusiasm for the two amendments during a Sept. 23 special election.
“I worry because it will be in September, right in the middle of football season,” he joked to the audience.
Constitutional Amendment 1 would create a cabinet-level position of Secretary of Education to head a reorganized public education department.
Constitutional Amendment 2 would allow money for education purposes distributed from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to be increased from the current 4.7 percent of an average value of the fund to 5.8 percent for fiscal years 2005 to 2012, 5.5 percent for fiscal years 2013 to 2016, then to a permanent 5 percent. The average value is figured as the average annual year-end market values of the fund for the preceding five calendar years, according to a discussion of the amendment on the Web site of the state Republican Party.
Richardson told his Portales audience a Secretary of Education and a reorganized state Board of Education would mean more autonomy and greater access for local school districts.
“I want school districts to have local control and with a secretary you will have it,” he said. “(Currently) the state Board of Education holds local districts accountable, but who holds them accountable? With a secretary, you won’t have to go through the state board anymore. You will go straight to the secretary or the governor.”
He said the money from Amendment 2 is necessary to pay for teacher raises, a three-tier licensing system and other reforms already approved by the state legislature under House Bill 212, passed in 2003.
State Rep. Joe Campos, D-Santa Rosa, told the audience the permanent fund was established as a “rainy day” fund for future generations of New Mexico’s students. But, now voters must ask themselves if that rainy day is here?
“Are we losing teachers to Texas? Are the good teachers staying here? I had a problem with some of (the amendments’) issues to begin with, but I had to ask myself, ‘Is the education system working?’” he said.
State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he authored a provision requiring that if the Permanent Fund’s amount drops to $5.8 billion -- it currently is $6.7 billion -- the amount the state could take out of it would revert to 4.7 percent.
He told the governor Portales voters are worried that a cabinet secretary of education would not stay in touch with local communities.
“Smaller schools are apprehensive about one man. We’ve cut our schools about as much as we can. But if a secretary would come here, as you have, it would be better,” he said.
Portales Municipal Schools board of education member Steve Davis said he was moved from a definite “no” position on the amendments to an “undecided” position by Ingle’s remarks.
“It was knowing that a definite floor has been established for the fund and that they’d go back to 4.7 percent if it got that low,” he said.